Summary: The man by the pool was trapped by hopelessness until he turned in the direction of true hope.
Questions and their answers can tell you a lot about a person. In fact one of the keys to being successful in life is to learn to ask the right questions. What we see in this passage is someone who was so far down, so removed from any real hope that he probably didn’t even really know what He wanted. So Jesus uses a question to see what it is that the man really wants.
The passage in John takes place in Jerusalem in the second year of Jesus ministry. The location of this story was by the sheep gat to the temple where sacrificial sheep were washed before being admitted. This year we’ve talked a lot about sheep and we know that when they first come out of the field that they are not the cleanest of animals. Sheep were also required for sacrifice in the temple and everything in the temple needed to be ceremonially clean, so what they’ve found as they excavate ancient Jerusalem is that there was a gate that the priests and who ever else would bring the sheep through into the temple and right outside that gate that had a pool. This pool was used to wash the sheep so that they were clean enough to be brought into the temple.
The sheep may have been clean but the water wouldn’t have been, everything that was washed off would be in the water and would settle into the sides and bottom of that pool. Verse 2 tells us that the pool was surrounded by five colonnades. These colonnades gave the illusion of protection from the elements. They would have blocked some of the wind during the cold months of winter and so protection from the rain. They would have provided some shade during the heat of the summer months. It would have appeared to have been a good place to seek shelter for those who gathered underneath them. But as anyone who has had to sit outside on a July day in Phoenix can tell you it’s just an illusion, the shade may be cooler but it’s still hot. As anyone can tell you on a windy rainy day, sometimes the wind makes it rain sideways and there is no protection from the rain. But on most days, the columns would help so on most days they gave the appearance, the illusion of being able to help.
This pool over the years became surrounded by handicapped people from all around because there was a legend about it but even the legend was an illusion because everything about this place was an illusion. Listen to how the passage reads in the New King James. Verses 3-4, “In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” This verse doesn’t appear in the NIV, ESV or NET Bible because it’s not in the earliest and best sources, someone added this verse later.
So what happened here? Here’s a quick lesson in apologetics. See some people would look at the verse and say it is a problem. That we Christians can’t even get our Bible right so how can we trust it. Well let’s look at this really quickly. John probably didn’t include this passage about the angel because that was the local legend that an angel would appear and stir the water so someone could be healed. John the evangelist wouldn’t write a false legend in his gospel but it appears that in some of the later manuscripts someone added it, probably to make it more readable.
So what do we do today? Well some translations keep the verse in to keep with tradition, and some drop the verse to stay the most accurate. I’m with the accuracy camp because our goal when it comes to studying God and the life of Christ, is to get it right. We’re all betting not just our lives, but our eternities on what the Bible says; I personally would like it to be as accurate as possible. For those who would like to make a big deal out of it, what difference does it really make? It doesn’t change the essence of the story or the gospel. What it does show is that the guys who put our Bibles together the ones who work on these translations really take their work seriously. We have placed a sacred trust in them and they are working to be worthy of that trust.
So back to our passage, this pool was the place for the sheep to be ceremonially cleaned. Probably because of the religious connection the portico became a shrine of sorts. That would be why the people gathered there. See this little place, right next to the temple of the living God, the God who’s Son was literally walking among them at that moment, this place represented misplaced faith such a place in the Hellenistic world may have been dedicated to Asclepius or another god of healing. This probably would have been a shrine to one of the Hellenistic Gods of healing and that would explain why there was a legend springing up around it. But all of it was an illusion. The thing about desperation is that you’re willing to believe anything. These people needed help, they needed hope and they were willing to go anyplace and do anything for it. Hey let’s wait outside, partially exposed to the elements, next to a pool of dirty water, just in case we all need to race into that water and maybe then one of us can be healed. That sounds like a great plan right? No, and they probably knew that but when you’re desperate, you’ll take any opportunity you can find. That’s what they were doing, they were taking any opportunity.